Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

Junior Vegan Masterchef?

» June 1st, 2014

My son and I just finished the final episode of Masterchef Junior. It’s a compelling show. I’d even say that—the obvious detriment notwithstanding—it’s a great show. Kids aged 8-13 draw upon a wealth of hidden talent and experience to cook meals that could be featured in any top restaurant in the country. The show offers an important reminder that, when parents back off a bit and let kids loose they can force you to redefine “age appropriate” behavior.  Inspired, my son has practically commandeered the kitchen and gone to work. I’m now watching him make a vegan tempura batter. Yum.

Now, to that obvious detriment notwithstanding. The recipes on Masterchef Junior would make a carnivore quiver like a tuning fork. When the judges taste the superlative results emanating from the kids’ kitchen, their reaction is visceral. They lurch forward, brows furrowed, eyes rolling back into their heads. “I want to give you a hug,” one of them might say.  Or, “this meal could be a restaurant’s signature dish.” The kids beam.

The suffering behind it all is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. The failure to connect the animal products to the animals was especially clear when the kid who ended up winning the competition—aged 13—cooked a meal that the judges said was the best they’d seen and tasted in four years. It was a veal chop. With that victory, the essence of our culture’s disconnection from the food we eat was affirmed. My son and I could not help but note that the winner won because he cooked a baby cow.

Vegans are increasingly getting involved in all sorts of video projects, many of which are necessarily dark and depressing. A cooking show that featured kids cooking first rate vegan meals, being judged by top vegan chefs, could be a great way to raise awareness, celebrate kids’ interest in plant-based cuisine, and demonstrate that a vegan, too, can melt with pleasure when tasting finely prepared food.

Evolution’s Weighty Anchor

» May 30th, 2014

There are few ambitions more audacious than trying to convince someone to change his diet on ethical grounds. Eating is, at its core, an act of personal intimacy and nobody really wants to be instructed on how to be intimate. We like to think we’ve got that one figured out.

This point is one that a lot of animal advocates forget when we present our case with what seems like airtight moral logic, only to then be ignored or scorned by folk who are perfectly happy with their BLT and BBQ, thank you very much.

It drives animal advocates a bit nuts. When we congregate we will often say, somewhat plaintively, “when will people realize what they’re doing to animals? When will change happen?!” Brows furrow. Heads shake in frustration.

The problem with the question, of course, is that it rests on the flawed assumption that humans respond to moral logic with appropriate behavioral change. Not only is this wrong, and not only is the moral logic we espouse rarely as persuasive as we think it is, but the truly daunting fact of the matter is that, in politely asking humanity to stop eating animals, we overlook how eating animals is more than a cultural choice. It’s a biological act rooted in our deepest eco-evolutionary past.

Now, that doesn’t make it right (as readers know I’m well aware). But let’s take this seriously: a couple million years of hunting and gathering, not to mention the adaptation of the human brain to life on the African savannah, makes the carnivore doet a pretty freakin’ tenacious habit

Three aspects of our evolutionary legacy strike me as particularly relevant to the claim that, when it comes to eating animals, the past has a commanding and assuredly long-term hold on the present. In this post, I’ll note just one.

It has to do with the experimental backstory to the human carnivore’s diet. As a species, hominids did not burst on the scene and start eating a standard diet appropriate to their needs.

The standard diet appropriate f0r hominids (and homo sapiens) in the pre-agricultural era was forged through endless and terrifying trial and error. Plants and animals were tested, accepted, rejected. They were savored, flavored, regurgitated. People routinely died because of poor dietary choices. Others thrived.

In other words, an essential part of becoming and being human involved testing the natural world to see what would keep us in the game. A tremendous amount of evolutionary energy was invested in this process, one that, by virtue of hundreds of thousands of years of accumulated assessments of what “works,” made eating at least some meat central to being human.

That fact might run counter to contemporary animal ethics, but it’s a heavy anchor to pull up all at once.

 

 

On The Human Wish To Be An Orca

» May 28th, 2014

Here is what an orca whale eats, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: “a wide range of prey, including fish, seals, and big whales such as blue whales.” They also consume herring, cod, squid, and octopus. They are actually the largest known marine mammals to kill and eat other mammals, consuming 375-500 pounds of food a day.

In no way bound to the ethical standards of humans, they are, nonetheless, massive destroyers of sentient life. They have to be in order to live. But they don’t, as it turns out, eat humans. Not because they take pity on us. But because we’re too bony and don’t smell right. Plus, they never see us in the wild. We generally don’t swim in their waters.

I mention these details not as a lead-in into yet another story on SeaWorld, but as an attempt to make sense of Jeffrey Mousaieff Masson’s truly bizarre recent claim that, “I would rather have been born an orca.” Evidently he’s serious. “No kidding,” he writes, “I really would.”

Why would he want to be an orca?  Humans, so quick to the pull the trigger on each other, have dismayed Masson so thoroughly—we killed 200 million of our own in the 2oth century–that he wants to join the orca clan because  orcas have “killed exactly zero of their kind.” In this respect—the fact that they spare their own—he adores their “gentle lives.” Intended to be a plea for compassion, Masson’s gambit is really an expression of self-preservation and moral exoneration.

First the self-preservation. Masson’s main problem with humans, at least as he articulates it in the article, is that we kill other humans. This intra-species violence is why he wants to jump ship from humanity and join the “gentle” orca community, a species that shreds to death some of the smartest creatures alive and eats their children. Note that Masson doesn’t condemn humans for killing other species, as orcas do (and he would get to do as an orca), but only for killing each other. So the claim, although hardly his intention, ultimately suggests that Masson wants to leave the human world and join the orcas because he’d be safer and maybe live longer.

Being an orca would also let Masson off the ethical hook, allowing him to become a guiltless shredder of ocean animals while garnering respect from Masson-types as peace-lovers for not killing their own (or humans). In his tirade against his own, Masson writes, “There may be no orca heroes, but nor are there orca psychopaths . . .” What Masson fails to acknowledge is that, because there are no orca psychopaths, there are also no orca animal rights activists. There are no orcas who will stand up and say, “stop the slaughter of our octopi brethren!”

So, if Masson were an orca he would a) destroy blue whales while b) bearing none of the ethical responsibility for doing so. As a human, though, he admirably has assumed the burden of responsibility (writing wonderful books on animals), a burden that he would, if his wish came true, toss off as casually as he did this silly article.

 

Chipotle Experiences an Outbreak of Literary Food Poisoning

» May 20th, 2014

Just as we experience outrage when Big Agriculture’s deep pockets lobby for subsidies and deregulation, so we should react when a bunch of great writers lend their literary talents to a fast-food company with a history of greenwashing.

That’s now happening with Jonathan Safran Foer and the team of writers he has “curated” to further thicken Chipotle’s rhetorical soup. Like Big Ag’s iron triangle, this relationship reeks of self-interest and faux populism. Simply put, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

So far the reviews of this initiative are rotten, as they should be. But what’s problematic is not that the writing—all done on cups and bags—isn’t insultingly bad, but that this project happened in the first place.

That an impressive slew of cultural critics and deep thinkers—ranging from Toni Morrison to Steven Pinker—didn’t think better about cheapening their talents by using them to promote a food franchise bodes poorly for the state of intelligent public discourse.  It’s like all those cool kids in high school, the best looking ones with the nicest clothes and fanciest cars, who were so collectively enthralled with their clique that were unable to see how ridiculous they looked to the rest of us.

Beyond the embarrassment of this literary-burrito association, though, is the goofy reasoning behind it. Here’s Foer’s quote in Vanity Fair: “I mean, I wouldn’t have done it if it was for another company like a McDonald’s, but what interested me is 800,000 Americans of extremely diverse backgrounds having access to good writing. A lot of those people don’t have access to libraries, or bookstores. Something felt very democratic and good about this.”

Sure. All those Chipotle goers, denied access to a library or a bookstore, will now be able to read the thoughts of our nation’s most creative thinkers on the outside of trash—very democratic, very good. But, by this logic, why not just place your wordy pearls of wisdom on a McDonald’s bag? Or just a bathroom wall? That would be democratic. And eliminate this outbreak of literary food poisoning for good.

*Two notes. First, I’m so baffled by this initiative that my residual paranoia compels me to say that I think this could be a hoax. Just saying. Second, I have this piece today in Slate.

DxE: Challenging Chipotle With The Truth

» May 17th, 2014

“Over 98% of Chipotle’s sales involve violence against animals, which amounts to billions of dollars in blood money.” So declares the animal activist organization Direct Action Everywhere.

And they’re right. It is one of the harder realities to accept for those who want to believe that Chipotle is a fast food restaurant aiming to change the food system for the better. Fact is, nothing could be further from the truth. It merely taps popular discontent with conventional fast food to profitably purvey a greenwashed and “humane” version of slaughter. Additional anger might derive from the recent news that the company’s two founders raked in $50 million last year. Blood money indeed. (See my previous work on Chipotle here.)

Direct Action Everywhere is drawing attention to the abuses hidden by Chipotle’s savvy advertising campaigns and shamelessly misleading “Food with Integrity” gambit. It writes, “while its corporate propaganda has succeeded in making it one of the most successful businesses in the world, it has also left it vulnerable – particularly when even meat industry publications have noted that the company purchases meat from the same concentrated animal feedlot operations (so-called “factory farms”) as other buyers.”

To make these claims stick DxE participants have gathered in 37 cities and 13 countries under the banner of “It’s not food, it’s violence” and staged peaceful flash-mob protests at Chipotle stores, in some cases causing early closures with their civil disobedience.

I spoke to lead DxE organizer Wayne Hsiung several weeks ago. The impression I got was that Hsuing, a recovering law professor who has studied at MIT and the University of Chicago, had mastered the art of being everywhere and nowhere at once, passively leading a massive grassroots effort to challenge Chipotle with something it knows very little about: the truth. Any journalist looking for a perfect subject for a profile should seek him out.

Meantime, get involved by going here.

What If Vegans Are Wrong?

» April 8th, 2014

I have a friend and colleague—and a vegetarian— who is editing a book in which he invited philosophers to argue that it’s ethically justifiable, at least in some circumstances, to eat animals. My friend is not inclined to necessarily agree with these assessments, but he’s secure enough in his own beliefs to accept genuine challenges to his suppositions. I admire this willingness to expose his own flank to attack, if for no other reason than doing so has the potential to leave one even more secure in his position than when he started. Ethical vegans should take note.  (I’ll review the book here when it lands.)

Many comments to my recent vegan pillars piece—offline and on—criticized it on the grounds that it somehow threatened the vegan cause. How dare you suggest there’s something shaky about veganism! The implication here was that any attempt to highlight conceptual weaknesses or even identify unique challenges that vegans faced was an insidious form of betrayal. That stance might work for the activist, but not the intellectual. Doubt inspired by honest reflection hardly provides anti-vegans with ammunition to use against us. Plus, if we continue to see this matter as an us v. them war, we’ll end up having great appeal to ourselves alone. What’s the point of that?

Veganism is not a cult. It’s an ideal to which we do our best to follow. Necessarily, by nature of existence, we’ll fail, but if we proceed in ignorance of our failures we’ll never appeal to masses of thoughtful and pragmatic people who have the means to live life without unnecessarily and intentionally harming animals. The fact that some people do not have that means is yet another hard reality of ethical veganism that, as activists, we’re too eager to obscure rather than directly confront. There are a lot of cheerleaders for veganism out there. I enjoy their cheers. But that’s not what this blog is about. The Pitchfork aims to make you uncomfortable, however momentarily.

And so I’ll be spending a good chunk of time, as well as dedicating some meatier Pitchfork columns, to thinking out loud about how I (and others) might be convinced to eat animals. I don’t want to eat animals. I seriously doubt I’m ever going to eat animals. But I very much do want to systematically consider the oyster, consider roadkill, consider insects, consider the Inuit, consider other topics that you suggest. And so on. I want to consider the remote possibility that I’m wrong.  Because that just seems right.

 

The Thinking Vegan?

» April 6th, 2014

Okay, cue up your outrage:

 

 

Now, take a deep breath: what do you do here? How do you react?

There are thinking and thoughtless ways to approach this image. The most thoughtful might actually be to shrug it off as a shallow and insulting marketing gimmick. But doing so misses an opportunity to explore what exactly makes American culture—especially the complicated culture of the American West—uniquely supportive of this kind of message. That’s a big topic, a great topic, a  topic relevant to animal ethics. But it’s not what I’m going to explore at the moment. I simply want to note that a thoughtful response to this image might tend in that direction—the direction of thoughtfulness, the kind that illuminates the culture we want to change.

My real reason for including this image is to offer a case study on how not to react. This image came to me via a tweet from Gary Smith’s “The Thinking Vegan.” The twittery tag line was “what a horrible human being.” Inspired by such insight, Facebook readers smelled blood, launching into a tirade of invective that collectively made Palin look like Gandhi by comparison.

Here are what “thinking vegans” had to offer by way of intelligent analysis:

“Sarah Palin is a ignorant lying bloodthirsty murdering psycho in any language”; “I think she is but a stupid slut who did`n`t get enough love and care while growing up”; “Dumb bitch!”; “what a piece of effing shit”; “Fuk u her thats why your fukd n will die of some of cancer”; “I hate her”; ”Sarah Palin is an old Indian word for Cunt”; “She is an ignorant murdering bitch”; “Sarah Palin is an old Indian phrase meaning fuckwit!”; “Palin is an old Alaskan word for murderer coke whore…what a waste if oxygen this bitch is”; “Dumb as a rock that woman. Wanna throw up in her face”; “Ugly excuse for a human being.”

Ugh. And this from a Twitter profile that claims to have “a philosophical bent.”

Some of this was on The Thinking Vegan’s FB page, some on the page of the person whom The Thinking Vegan retweeted. Either way, there’s nothing thoughtful about this dump of anger. The Thinking Vegan should reconsider the impact of stoking cheap outrage. If anything, this kind of exposure alienates otherwise thoughtful and compassionate people who want to create a better world for animals. There are reasons that many potential vegans refuse to identify as vegan. And this example is one of them.

It might feel good to lash out, but what’s the benefit for animals?

 

Center for Biological Diversity Connects Diet and Animal Extinction

» March 21st, 2014

Mainstream environmental groups in the United States have almost categorically refused to promote veganism. This refusal is not only maddening, but it’s ironic, given that the environmental benefits of reducing animal consumption are well known and uncontested. My own attempts to engage with mainstream environmentalists on the issue have left me totally befuddled at the myopia that underscores this omission. But what else is new.

Years ago I approached 350.org and asked them if they’d consider officially promoting veganism as a viable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I was told that it wasn’t something they were really all that into. What I suspect they really weren’t all that into was losing donors who cared about the environment but didn’t want to be told they had to give up eating animals to help achieve the organization’s goal of reducing carbon output to 350 ppm. Not realistic, they suggested, which is a rather odd stance to take for an organization that wants humans to restructure their fundamental relationship with the natural world.

Enviros that do address the meat issue will often resolve it through an appeal to the “land ethic,” arguing that humans can eat meat so long as they acquire it in a way that maintains as much as possible the earth’s natural balance and harmony. If there are too many hogs, kill em and eat em. Too many jellyfish in the sea, ditto. This ethic certainly has its appeal, but not only do I find it unrealistic–we suck at getting it right–and not only does it ignore the rights of animals not to be shot or netted, but the ultimate logic of the ethic demands that we begin by hunting humans. So, well . .  yeah.

All this is a long way of saying that it’s nice to see at least one environmental group–The Center for Biological Diversity–address the meat issue with forthright advice. “Eat less meat, save more wildlife,” it explains. “Pledge to take extinction off your plate,” it adds. Their effort is part of “an earth friendly diet campaign.” It’s a step in the right direction, one worth watching and encouraging. Learn more here.

 

 

Mayor de Blasio Vows To End Horse Carriages In NYC

» February 18th, 2014

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that NPR’s coverage of this story was a mess. It begins by immediately belittling the issue of horse welfare, noting that one might reasonably expect the mayor to deal with “big picture problems” instead of . . . .horses. This choice of an opener raises a question. Why would a journalist begin an article on any topic by suggesting that, compared to “big” issues, the one she was covering didn’t really matter? If nothing else, this is a strange way to draw attention to a topic that is somehow important enough to warrant national coverage.

But Janet Babin’s dismissive attitude infects the entire piece. Babin explains that “horse carriage rides are a staple in cities around the country.” Really? In so far as a “staple” is a “main item of trade or production,” horse carriage rides are decidedly not a staple of the urban experience. The reporter furthers her opinion—and, in a way, what she has put together is an opinion piece–that the Mayor’s proposal is just plain weird by reporting that the mayor “raised some collective eyebrows” with his choice.

This phrase is another interesting choice. It implies that everyday folks—the collective–were similarly thrown for a loop by the fact that the mayor cares more than a whit about horse welfare. But again, there’s no evidence offered of a collective anything. And if there was, how about the possibility that a collective of New Yorkers might find the carriage trade problematic? Might it have been more accurate to note that “a collective cheer” went up when New Yorkers heard the news?

And then there’s the problem of context. The carriage horses are largely a political and horse welfare issue whose underlying motivator is economic. The money is on the side of the drivers who allegedly exploit horses. But the politics aren’t—they are more complex, including as they do, interest groups who are concerned with the welfare of horses. Babin again takes the easy way out by ignoring this context and offering only opinions (her own, the industry’s, a horse advocacy group’s) while calling it “news coverage” — which it isn’t.

The segment goes downhill quickly. Before explaining why the horse carriage industry might be a welfare problem, Babin rushes to quote a joke from the Daily Show with John Stewart. Stewart had remarked, ”Should we even be living here? ‘Cause  . . . sometimes I look at their stable and I go like, what do you think that’d go for, $1,600 a month? What do you think?” Well, sorry to be a grump, but I think humor does not have a place in this story. Unless you find the prospect of horse abuse funny.

When Babin finally does get around to exploring the issue from a welfare angle she quotes Allie Feldman, the executive director of New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets. Feldman gives a great quote, but her organization is identified as an “animal rights group.” Now, maybe Feldman described her organization this way but, judging from the organization’s website, I would doubt it.  It does not in any way address the issue of animal rights per se. More to the point, it allows Babin to use loaded language—yikes!, an animal rights group!—to skew the issue as one that only a bunch of crazies, oh and the mayor, cares about.

She then quotes the Horse and Carriage Association, which predictably says, ”A lot of these horses come from very, very bad backgrounds and are rescued from very abusive situations. This is not an abusive situation . . .” And then some tourists from North Carolina who are crushed that they’ll never be able to ride through Central Park behind horses that, according to a great deal of evidence that Babin ignores, suffer immensely.

Not only is the Horse and Carriage Association given the last word in this piece, but its message of sanctuary is never countered by credible and widely available information that would, if given attention, have resonance to more than the “animal rights activists” who Babin identifies as the only nuts who care about this issue in the first place.

NPR’s Grade: D.

Note to readers: I’m in the process of beginning an on-line project with the journalist Vickery Eckhoff that evaluates the media’s coverage of animal issues. A more thorough statement of purpose, as well as a web address will be forthcoming. For now, though, please note that the kind of piece published here is the sort of work that Eckhoff and I (and an assemblage of writers) will be doing. Needless to say, when we launch, I hope to count on readers to spread the word.  –jm

 

Doesn’t A Killer Whale Suffer in Captivity?

» January 5th, 2014

In the course of researching killer whales for what I hoped would be several Forbes.com posts, I put the above question to SeaWorld spokesman, Fred Jacobs. Here is his answer:

“There is . . . no truth to your claim on stress.  We have displayed killer whales for nearly 50 years.  In that time our trainers have interacted with them hundreds of times a day, every day.  Literally millions of safe interactions with these animals.  SeaWorld is an accredited and respected zoological institution that operates under multiple, overlapping federal and state animal welfare laws.  The overwhelming majority of killer whales in our parks were born in our parks.  They adapt very well to their environments.  Our standards of care are the highest in the zoological community: ample food, clean and chilled water, exercise, mental stimulation, veterinary care and the company of other members of their species.”

Needless to say, I sense something fishy in this answer. So I turned to Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist known globally for her work on orcas. She generously addressed Mr. Jacobs’s response point by point in an email. Here it is:

FJ: There is no truth to your claim on stress.  We have displayed killer whales for nearly 50 years.  In that time our trainers have interacted with them hundreds of times a day, every day.  Literally millions of safe interactions with these animals. 

NR: [T]his claim, which SeaWorld has been making ever since Dawn Brancheau was killed (the company relied heavily on it in the first OSHA hearing), is misleading at best and simply incorrect at worst. The correct metric to determine the safety of interacting with this species is not the number of interactions but the number of whales involved in injuries and deaths.

SeaWorld has held approximately 60-70 whales in its history. Of these, at least 10 (and frankly it’s been more, but these are the ones I know for certain) have been involved in interactions that resulted in people’s injuries or deaths. THAT’s the relevant metric. An analogy would be if there was a car model that had a design flaw that will eventually result in brake failure in some percentage of cars. One might drive any such car hundreds or even thousands of miles before the failure, but eventually the brakes will fail in some percentage of cars because of this flaw. So the relevant metric would be not how many miles one drives before the failure, but the number of cars that eventually fail. If only 1-2% of cars of this model experienced brake failure, they would be recalled.

In SeaWorld’s case, at least a sixth of its whales have “failed” – that’s a double digit failure rate, which in any other industry would result in a recall.

 FJ: SeaWorld is an accredited and respected zoological institution that operates under multiple, overlapping federal and state animal welfare laws. 

NR: The fact that SeaWorld is accredited is irrelevant if the accreditation process itself is flawed, which I argue it is. But regardless, there are not “multiple” federal and state animal welfare laws under which SW operates – this is just a strange claim altogether. SW operates under only two federal laws (there are no state welfare laws that apply to marine mammal display) – and only one of these is significant. The Animal Welfare Act sets care and maintenance standards for captive marine mammals, but has been under fire for years for being out of date (its enclosure size standards, for example, haven’t been updated since 1984). The Marine Mammal Protection Act addresses only one element of captive marine mammal display – education. However, the MMPA requires that a marine mammal display facility only meet professional industry standards for education, so this element is self-policed and in essence means that educational standards have no outside oversight.

 FJ: The overwhelming majority of killer whales in our parks were born in our parks.

NR: This is true, but it’s because almost all of the wild-caught whales SW once had have died. They only have five left, out of 31 total (so 26 wild-caught whales have died over the years at SW). Arguably ALL of those whales should still be alive, since the oldest of them would only be in their 50s or 60s (and orcas can live to be 60-90). But even more charitably, at least half of those 26 should still be alive.

 FJ: They adapt very well to their environments. 

 NR: This statement has absolutely no meaning. This is the very debate we are having in the scientific and public communities. SW obviously believes this, but it has very few data to back it up. I have a lot more data to support my position that they do NOT adapt well at all to their “environments” in captivity. They die young, they have poor dental health, many new mothers do not nurse their calves properly (some outright reject their calves, a very rare phenomenon in the wild, if it occurs at all), they are abnormally violent toward each other and they have injured and killed people.

 FJ: Our standards of care are the highest in the zoological community: ample food, clean and chilled water, exercise, mental stimulation, veterinary care and the company of other members of their species.

 NR: Fred’s claim here is actually completely accurate – SW’s standards of care are the highest in the zoo and aquarium world. But that is not the same as being comparable to natural habitat.

Food at SW is ample, but it is limited in diversity – SW’s orcas are fed fish species that are not necessarily preferred in the wild and some of the whales SW has held were mammal-eaters and had to adapt to eating fish. Frozen fish usually have lower nutritional value than fresh, so most captive orcas have to receive vitamin supplements. Same for water content – frozen fish have lower water content (whales and dolphins get their water from their food – they do not drink) and therefore some captive orcas need water supplements in the form of gelatin.

The clean and chilled water is unnatural – it is “too” clean (even pristine ocean water is not as clean as tank water, which is nearly sterile). It is also often artificial (only SW San Diego uses natural seawater – San Antonio and Orlando use artificial seawater). The methods to keep it hygienic do not allow any fish or algae to be placed in the tank (and such additions would also interfere with visibility during the show). In short, while water quality at SW is the “best in the business,” it compares poorly to natural habitat.

To claim that captive orcas get adequate exercise is simply illogical. These are animals that never stop moving in the wild – even when resting (they do not sleep the way we sleep) they slowly swim forward. In captivity, they can spend hours “logging” (remaining motionless at the surface). This is the epitome of unnatural behavior. Captive orcas are the equivalent of couch potatoes. Some are more active than others, but none are as active as they are in the wild. They almost certainly have health issues that are related to this lack of activity, just as with humans – it is certainly one easy explanation for their shortened life spans in captivity.

As for mental stimulation, I consider that an illogical claim as well. Orcas are not naturally diurnal – that is, they are not active in the day and inactive at night, as humans are. They rest when they are tired, whenever that may be. They are active when they need to be. Daylight means less to them than to land mammals, as they are often at depth where it is always dark (they “see” with sound – echolocation – and their vision is less dominant as a sense than their hearing). So the diurnal cycle they are forced to adopt in captivity is actually completely unnatural, meaning they spend at least 8 hours – during the nighttime when the park is closed – inactive, which is not normal for them. In short, I think boredom is actually the most significant stress they face in captivity – their tanks have no variety, no diversity, no CHANGE. Their environment never changes and they spend a lot of time (unnaturally) inactive.

As for veterinary care, the simple response to that is, wild orcas don’t need veterinary care. Also, as Dr. Chris Dold (the lead vet at SW) testified in court at the OSHA hearing, orca veterinary science is still largely an ART, not a science – they still guess a lot about diagnoses and treatments and often guess wrong.

Finally, while SW orcas do have the company of their own species (which is more than Lolita at the Miami Seaquarium has, for example), they do not have family. SW often separates family members – this is a species that probably has the strongest family bonds of any mammal in the world, including humans. SW’s habit of moving calves to other facilities – sometimes when they are younger than two years of age – is perhaps the most damaging thing that happens to orcas there. Captive orcas are not socialized properly, because they are removed from their mothers far too young. This may be one of the reasons they exhibit unnatural levels of violence toward each other and toward people (the same thing has been observed in elephants – orphans of culls, who are raised “without adult supervision,” are often unnaturally violent when they grow up).